Imagine stumbling through a friendly family corn maze, dizzily spinnng, careening off the vegetation walls. The sky has long since turn from blue to orange and is now a darkening gray. Corn shadows lengthened as you bravely searched, until the stalks became simple, evil, black silhouettes cut from the heavens. Every junction looks like every other. Did you turn left last time you were here? Right? You hear the panicked breathing of your spouse. Both of you have the same thing in mind, but neither will mention it: Should you eat the spouse or the children first if it came to that? You shake the thoughts from your head. Then you realize it: Your cell phone. You dial 911 and within minutes you hear sirens and bloodhounds. You are rescued. Never again, you swear, will you try a corn maze.
That was the harrowing true story of suffering by a family trapped in a corn maze at ol' Connors Farm last week.
So that you don't have to suffer injury or embarassment, I'm going to teach you how to escape from any maze. It is a simple trick. So simple that you don't need a map or even vision. You could do it blindfolded. Here it is:
TOUCH THE WALL WITH ONE HAND AND WALK FORWARD.
That is literally it. Stick out your right hand and keep it on the wall as you walk and eventually you will reach the exit. It is guaranteed. The unfortunate family that was lost at Connors Farm was apparently in the horse's nose. You can see from the map that they were very close to the exit by the shortest route, but let's suppose they were pointed the other way. Armed with the right hand rule they would have followed the red path below. Try it with an equivalent left hand rule, you'll see that the family still escapes by a different route. Going south with the left or right hand rule leads to the exit very quickly.
I was prompted to write this because literally the next thing I read on the Internet, after reading about this lost family, was someone commenting that school was a waste of time since there is no use for higher math. I had to laugh, because it is exactly a slightly higher mathematical understanding that leads to knowing how easy it is to escape mazes. The one hand technique works because a maze is just like a string.
Imagine a long string on the ground. You can follow that string from start to finish by holding it with one hand and walking. If that string were looped around in a circle so that the beginning and end were close to each other it still wouldn't matter, you could walk the string from beginning to end. What if you poked in bits of the string? Doesn't change it, it's a string and can still be walked. What if you poked in the string and distorted it into really complicated shapes? Still you could walk it. That's exactly what a maze is and that's why you can get out by following a wall.
Now, there is an exception. You have to be lucky enough to touch an outside wall, but the good news is that most mazes are composed exclusively of walls connected to the outside. If the maze has disconnected islands then you have a problem using this trick becauses you would circle the island you had your hand on. In the string analogy, this is like a second loop of string inside the larger loop of string. If you grab hold of the second string then you will forever walk around that one, never moving to the larger string.
At Connors farm such islands do exist in many places. The hooves and legs, for example, contain many of these islands. You have to use a slightly more complicated algorithm to get out of a maze that has islands in it.
You must think of a way to leave messages for yourself on the ground, like breaking off a corn stalk and laying it down. This is because you need to keep track of where you've been and which paths turn out to be dead ends. Such a system might work thusly:
- At the junctions lay down a stalk along the path you came from and along the path you left by.
- If you hit a dead end, go back to the last junction and close off the path by turning the stalk 90 degrees (see step 3-4 below).
- Now if you ever go to that junction again, you can quickly see which paths are dead ends for sure and which you've never visited
- empty paths are unvisited
- in-line stalks mean the path you are currently trying but might have to backtrack
- blocked paths are proven dead ends.
- Then pick a new path, or of none exist then continue backtracking by paths that you haven't blocked yet. Remember to block paths behind you as you backtrack by turning the stalk 90 degrees.
- It is also a dead end if you return to a junction you've already visited even if it's by a different path.
- Just mark that path with a 90 degree stallk and turn around (step 4).
- Eventually you will reach the exit.
- The path you took (without the dead ends) are marked by stalks that are in line (step 6)
There you have some examples of how a little higher education, at least a little lesson in logic, could save you from an embarassing 15 minutes of fame.
What's your take? Are you going to teach your children these lifesaving techniques? Do you think higher logic and math is useful in "REAL" life?